There is no mistaking in the works of professsionals
By Jurgita Sprindziuniene
Topic of the 7th International Artist’s Book Triennial in Vilnius named “Error” was meant to suggest experiments and freedom. The curator of the exhibition, Prof. Kestutis Vasiliunas, sought encouraging new and unexpected turns of artistic creation. Some of the artists grasped the idea, but many did not care much to adopt the concept of the organizer and just followed their own insights. However, this has not led to anything like eccentricity, or some loss of professional quality, – rather, conversely, the selected works have met the highest artistic standards, demonstrated earnest endeavours of the authors and intolerance of professional “errors”.
Artists’ books are works of inter-disciplinary art, or laboratories of graphic-textual-chromatic-spatial expression. The organizer of the current exhibition aimed at representing a rich variety of artistic forms, structural principles, methods of binding, materials and techniques, and schools of different countries. It’s not easy to reveal the hidden substance of every exposed book when it is not even allowed to thumb it, still the scope and the diversity of the exposition make it a great educational encounter.
Combinations and the hierarchy of traditional elements of the books can be found rearranged in the artists’ book. The accent on visual shape, its optic, tactile, material, and structural features allow to draw a parallel with the free and unalloyed visual language of experimental cinema or video art, which has developed from the former artistic cinema in its own way. Still, an artist’s book is not a mere traditional spatial or two-dimensional composition. Rather, the opposite way, the other forms of arts gradually have come closer to the book through contexture or ready-made objects. The multi-dimensional nature and structural representativeness of the traditional book corresponded to the need of artists to express themselves through the language of collage to create polysemous and polyphonic works.
A visitor of the exhibition may choose to neglect the order suggested by the organizers and to opt for several thematic routes to follow some specific artistic values:
Route 1. Tactility, the alchemy of materials, and the feast of senses
The artist’s book firstly attracts through its materials, used texture and facture.
Visitors will find an example of that in the book “Tau Blau – Dew Blue” intricately created by Barbara Beisinghoff (Germany). Author has combined various kinds of hand-made paper and technics of picture making (etching, watermark), achieving magic intensity of light in the colours of specially processed paper, making it close to stained-glass. In one showcase visitors may view works of artists of various countries, like Japan, Finland, Lithuania and notice the resemblance of the works because of their nuances of unlimited sensitivity to colours and lines, delicate or crumbly textures and cosiness of the materials (Yuko Wada, “Scroll”, “Unbounded Pages”, Synnove Dickhoff : “Disjointed Thought”, “Incorrect Circumstances”, “The Tea Book?” by Kestutis Vasiliunas). Akin to them can be found in the work of Migle Puzaite “(Not) A Mistake” (Lithuania) through its delicacy and feeling of meditation, achieved by composition of ink painting and minimalistic typographic inscription. The book-object by Toshihiro Hattori “The Lost World” (Japan) demonstrates beautiful combination of materials – seeds impressed to the flexed waxed hand-made paper sheets look delightfully like fossils in opaque amber. A participant of former triennials, artist of paper and collage Josephinne Tabbert (Germany) is fond of turbid crumpled paper and fabric textures in her works named “More And More”, “The Sea And The Waste”, “Error/War Isn’t an Option”. Through her intimate homely needle-work-like collages, the artist has discovered her peculiar way to talk with childlike outspokenness about global challenges.
More icy and rather crystal metallized plastic or glass books reveal their splendidness in the works of Claire Jeanine Satin (USA) “Pentimento: LIII Argent Majeur”, Dalia Truskaite (Lithuania) “Sentimental Books”. It’s interesting to note that even in the books of more technical, mechanical, typographic accomplishment there is evidence of looking-for texture refinement. One may read-out that in the ornaments of letters through the several layers of fine half-transparent paper (Kevin McCaughey (USA) “YO SUP NMU”, Monika Mickeviciute (Lithuania) “Missunderstanding”) or geometric figures by Randi Annie Strand (Norway) “Arabesque Error”.
Route 2. Universality of the word
Use of text and shrift marks the distinctive feature of this interdisciplinary art.
Visualization matters much, but semantics of the wordy text very often makes the necessary backbone of the work. It may be done in the way of philological game, like in the books and objects of Katriona Persson (Sweden), or in the way of quick-witted headings-hints (Su Grierson (Scotland) “What Si Dyslexia”). Words-signs are used in the tinny accordion book by Nina Nisonen (Finland) “Hello Miss Take!”, where Braille performs as both visual structure and hidden content.
Facilities of the text usage are interminable. It’s especially impressive, when text is unfolded through its transformation to the taking magic of signs and schematics. Text is able to trace our steps in the endless space (Alf Bjork “Walking Tours In The North Of Sweden”, to stop the time and to bring its sense such as the dates written in huge numbers by Gabriele Vingraite (Lithuania).
A recorded word in the artist’s book breaks free in its visual form, it may become disassembled to separate letters, each of them resonant in separate sound (Janis Rudolfs Nedela (Australia); text may become dematerialized to openwork by laser burned ornament, alike the object “Web Words IV” by Brigitte Amarger (France), “The Beauty Of Mistake” by Liang Zang (China); or may occur to become blown to the open space and to spread to the infinity in the shape of ash, e.g. Ausra Lisauskiene (Lithuania). If used in the associative way, shrift may turn to metaphor, like typographic letters changed to miniature hieroglyphs of pyramids in the “End Of The History” by Thurle Wright (Great Britain). Alike common cast-off truth, shredded pages flake down out of the book cover entitled “Veritas No. 46” by R. Prost. One will recognize an assumed existence of the text as necessary semantic layer of the book in the “Autist’s Diary” by Maarja Undusk (Estonia) – there missing text spurts out of an impossible to tip-up book.
Route 3. Sacredness of things
Some books resemble old ritual things and evoke dormant inside us mystique sense of the being and sacredness.
This year prize winner Hanne Stochholm (Denmark) remade books to objects, somehow so close to ancient usual or sacred objects, common in the paintings of 15th- 17th centuries… surprisingly unhindered to roll on the plastic wheels of a toy car now (“Remake I-II”). Old things in the assembly “The Prayer Book Of Releasing” by Asa Bostrom (Sweden), their historical shape and anticipated context of operation created a meaningful background for faintly possible to read texts – sentences. Contemplation of details and submission to the language of those old things is needed to conceive the rhythm of watching and breathing dictated by the language. One may notice some paradox parallels like in the prayer leaflets – are they rolls of papyrus, or opiate roll-ups? Also there are artistic works presenting book in metaphoric way as a container of secret, sacral knowledge or preserving the memory of the humankind, like “Library Of Alexandria” by Ania Gilmore (USA) and “Takoma 1940” by Nancy Hart (USA).
Route 4. Second life of the old books
Disused book turns to material for a new piece.
That’s the way works of Roberta Vaigeltaite (Lithuania) have appeared: an abstraction of forms, materials, shrifts, factures made by dismantlement and then handling the old edition in a new course. There is commonness between works of Svanborg Matthiasdottir (Island) and Marja Leena Valkola (Finland) whose “galleries of paintings” were done by covering some stain on the texts of old books; already mentioned Hanne Stochholm similarly turned her books to ancient things and Dalia Lopez Madrona (Sweden) turns teared book with cut corner after its postal journey to precious reliquary (“Atlantic Cross. Post Error”). Loraine Kwan (Canada) reworked book to a pretty aesthetic winged peg-top (“Tale Of The Tumbling Tome: Do Not Read In The Tub”). Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be easy to find out if partly visible printed historical text of the book and newly made decorative inscriptions on its sides have some conceptual connection with the turning new shape of the book?
Route 5. Vitality of tradition – our life in culture
Potency of various traditions radiates out of different artists’ works.
Flawless culture of the codex-type book design, harmony of shrift and image, traditional quality of paper and print, – all together note works of German artists, inherent in the book by Peter J. Moosbrugger “Mark Twain: Eine Grausame, Furchterliche Mittelalterliche Liebesgeschichte”. Works of Brody Neuenschwander (Belgium) sight like virtuoso renewed art of calligraphy and its creative combination with photography and typography.
Impressive handling of handicraft traditions was demonstrated by Japanese artists. Some lively examples – books with accordion structure like multi-layered tracery “Narcissus” by Mayumi Arakawa and “Sound & Meaning“ by Yuko Ebina, made with remarkable precision and joining together embroidery and signs of printed shrift.
Works of Australian artists seem quite different on the first glance, but one may feel breathing of the country’s old cultures, recognizable in the ornamentation of the picture, warm colours of the ground, the motives, resembling shining silhouettes of the rock paintings or maps of the “desert paintings” (Wayne Crothers “Life, Love, History and Time: A Book Of Errors”, Katherine Marmaras “Word Map (Looking For Silence)”.
Re-make of the tradition can be found even in the most contemporary works. Meiyi Wang (China) improves aesthetics of the book-album by adjusting old and new technics of photography and printing, while Joseph Johannes Visser (Netherland) printed typographical text on the skin of the fish. Combination of various technics and stylistics is evident in the book by Evaldas Mikalauskis, who exposed a dramatic story of brutal chaotic forms attacking traditional refinement “European” engraving.
Quite distinctive work “Anthropocene – Shale” was presented by Timothy Frerrichs (USA). It’s a multi-layered metaphor, a real charade, provoking one to analyse its composite parts: the object resembles form and structure of spalled rock, a shale in particular. Simultaneously it’s also the medieval miner’s book Re De Metalica, or, more precisely, fragments of its illustrations. Thick layer of papers with lines of ancient carving “splitted” by fragments of the images make it to resemble speckled texture of the rocks and its layers. Anthropocene – the geological period, denoting time when human activity started to change the Earth. Shale is related with the strategy of recent geology, climatology, ecology.
Route 6. It seemingly doesn’t exist, but it’s anticipated, or hidden in every of the yet un-opened book
It’s a time to be spent along with the author of the artists’ book, if one had the possibility to touch the book, to turn the pages and to explore its visual details and the whole structure searching for ways and codes to read out the genuine message. Kestutis Vasiliunas suggested an idea to expose books together with their electronic analogues, provided with the function of browsing in the monitors, as it has become a common practice in the exhibitions of the artists’ books in foreign countries. That facility is already available in the stationary expositions of the national museums, and hopefully will be employed in the triennial as well.
Translated by Andrius Sprindziunas
© Circle “Bokartas”, Kestutis Vasiliunas